Scouts' case won't be delayed

Scouts' case won't be delayed

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A Philadelphia judge has declined to grant a three-month extension in a case that could determine whether the local Boy Scouts chapter remains in a city-owned building.

Common Pleas Judge Mark I. Bernstein is handling the city’s lawsuit to evict the Cradle of Liberty chapter from a city-owned building because the chapter won’t allow openly gay participants or pay fair-market rent.

Bernstein denied a joint request July 8, filed the previous day by lawyers for the city and the Cradle of Liberty chapter, who wanted to extend a July 6 discovery deadline to Oct. 5. The case has been before Bernstein since June 2008.

The discovery phase allows both sides in a legal dispute to gather as much relevant evidence as possible for potential use in the trial.

The Scouts have occupied a city-owned building on the Ben Franklin Parkway near 22nd Street since 1928. But the city charges the Scouts’ antigay policy conflicts with the city’s gay-rights ordinance, enacted in 1982.

“In consideration of the filed petition for extraordinary relief, said petition for relief is denied,” Bernstein stated in his July 8 ruling. “All previously entered case-management deadlines shall remain in effect ... This order [doesn’t] preclude additional motions or sanctions for failure to comply with previously entered discovery orders.”

In May 2008, the Scouts filed a federal lawsuit, claiming they were being unfairly singled out by the city for enforcement of Philadelphia’s gay-rights law.

That lawsuit has been before U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter for 14 months, and he granted another round of extension deadlines last month.

Unlike Bernstein, Buckwalter agreed to postpone the federal case’s discovery deadline from July 6 until Oct. 5 — and agreed to postpone the trial date from Dec. 8, 2009 to April 21, 2010.

Those extensions followed an initial round of extensions granted by Buckwalter in April 2009.

According to standard operating procedures issued by Buckwalter, discovery for a typical case takes six months unless there is a “compelling reason” for an extension.

Andrew A. Chirls, a local attorney monitoring both cases, was pleased that Bernstein denied a postponement in the Common Pleas eviction proceeding.

“The longer the Scouts stay in the building, the longer an injustice is being done,” Chirls said. “I’m not saying the litigation should go faster than its natural life. But we’re ready for it to be decided and to come to an end.”

A settlement conference in the federal case has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 31 in Courtroom 31 of the U.S. Courthouse, 601 Market St., before U.S. Magistrate Judge L. Felipe Restrepo.

The public is not permitted to attend the settlement conference, according to court documents.

Chirls said the scheduled settlement conference doesn’t justify the need for extensions in either case.

“If there is a serious basis to settle, why does the city have to wait for a conference on Aug. 31, 2009?” he posed. “If there is a basis for settlement, it could have been explored by now.”

Stephan A. Glassman, chair of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, agreed.

“Human rights must always be a priority in this society,” Glassman said. “One would hope that this would rise to a level of the highest priority for the city of Philadelphia. Every day that goes by when an individual is denied equal opportunity is a day that is a stain on the reputation of the city.”

In his ruling, Bernstein has left open the possibility for monetary sanctions due to the missed deadline.

Doug Oliver, a spokesperson for the Nutter administration, had no comment for this story.

Jason P. Gosselin, an attorney for the Scouts, was unavailable for comment.

Tim Cwiek can be reached at (215) 625-8501 ext. 208.

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